posted on Tue 24 Jan 2017 10:20 PM
Update on The Gambia

Tomorrow (25 January), Council members are expected to receive a briefing from Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) via video-teleconference. The meeting has been organised as a follow-up to resolution 2237, adopted on 19 January, on The Gambia’s political crisis, which requested the Secretary-General to update the Council within ten days.

Resolution 2237 endorsed the decisions of the Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS) and the AU recognising Adama Barrow as the president of The Gambia. Contrary to some media coverage, the resolution did not endorse or authorise ECOWAS military intervention. Bolivia, Egypt and Uruguay in their explanations of vote on 19 January expressed the view that any military intervention should be authorised by the Council. However, Council authorisation is not needed if external forces are invited to enter a country by its legitimate government. Shortly before the Council adopted resolution 2337, Barrow was sworn in as president at The Gambia’s embassy in Dakar, and not long after, Senegal confirmed that its forces had entered The Gambia.

Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) Jeffrey Feltman briefed members the next day in consultations under “any other business” on the quickly unfolding developments. This included updating them on talks between presidents Alpha Condé (Guinea) and Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz (Mauritania) and Jammeh to avoid violence and prevent a confrontation with the ECOWAS forces.

These talks led to Jammeh agreeing to give up power and going into exile in Equatorial Guinea on Saturday (21 January) evening. That same day, a joint declaration was issued by ECOWAS, the AU and the UN commending Jammeh’s decision to transfer power to Barrow. In the declaration, ECOWAS, the AU and the UN also committed to work with the new government of The Gambia to ensure that the dignity, respect, security and rights of Jammeh, his immediate family, former government officials and party officials are respected, and to prevent the seizure of assets and properties lawfully belonging to them. The joint declaration also states that Jammeh may return to The Gambia at any time of his choosing in accordance with international human rights law and his rights as a Gambian citizen.

While the agreement brokered by Condé and Abdel Aziz avoided a possible violent confrontation between ECOWAS forces and Jammeh and his remaining supporters, it has been criticised for appearing to provide Jammeh with impunity from the widespread human rights abuses that occurred under his 22 year-long rule, including arbitrary arrests, torture and killings. Reports that he stole millions of dollars in recent weeks from the state and that several cargo planes filled with luxury vehicles and goods left the country have added to the concerns. It seems that Barrow has been critical of the agreement and it is unclear whether the new government will recognise it. Apparently some ECOWAS members, including Senegal, were not happy about the agreement.

It seems that there were some concerns within the UN, which had not been involved in the negotiations on the agreement, regarding its signature of the joint declaration. However, the UN’s commitment to work with the government of The Gambia on national reconciliation may provide the opportunity to address issues of accountability. A step in this direction is that Barrow has announced that he will establish a truth and reconciliation commission.

Members will be interested in getting more information on the joint declaration and the agreement reached with Jammeh. They may be interested in learning about the ECOWAS forces in The Gambia and plans for their continued presence. In addition, they are likely to want to know when Chambas’ expects Barrow to return to Banjul. Keeping in mind ways that the UN may be able to support efforts for accountabilty, some members could raise the possibility of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights providing its expertise to investigations of past abuses, especially given the possibility that Jammeh destroyed archives or other evidence during the standoff.

Chambas may further update members on UN plans to support the new government. It is likely that the new government will require sustained assistance for reforming the security sector and other institutions that Jammeh used over years to repress dissent and opposition.